It used to be that developing for microcontrollers was relatively relaxing. These days, even a cheap micro like the Raspberry Pi Pico has multiple cores, networking (for the W, at least), and file systems. Just like desktop computers. Sort of. I found out about the “sort of” part a few weeks ago when I decided to embark on a little historical project. I wanted a file system with a large file that emulates a disk drive. The Pico supports LittleFS, and I figured that would be the easy thing to do. Turns out the Little in LittleFS might be more literal than you think. On the plus side, I did manage to get things working, but it took a… well — dare I say hack? — to make it all work.
I’m an unabashed fan of the RCA 1802 CPU, which is, of course, distinctly retro. The problem is, I keep losing my old computers to moves, natural disasters, and whatnot. I’ve had several machines over the years, but they seem to be a favorite target of Murphy’s law for me. I do currently have a small piece of hardware called an Elf Membership Card (by [Lee Hart]), but it lacks fancy features like disk drives, and while it could be expanded, there’s something charming about its current small size. So that led me to repurpose a 6502 emulator for the KIM-1 to act like an 1802 instead. This is even less capable than the membership card, so it was sort of a toy. But I always thought I should upgrade the Arduino inside the emulator to a processor with more memory, and that’s what I did.
I started out with a Blackpill STM32F board and called the project 1802Black. The code is a little messy since it started out as [Oscar’s] KimUNO code, and then my updates layered with new updates. Also, for now, I shut off the hardware parts so it won’t use the KimUNO hardware — you only need a Blackpill (or a Pico, see below) and nothing else, although I may reenable the hardware integration later.
It wasn’t that hard to get it running with just more memory. Still, I wanted to run [Mike Riley’s] Elf/OS operating system and I also had a pair of Raspberry Pi Picos mocking me for not using them in a project yet. The chip has excellent Arduino board support. But what sealed the deal was noticing that you can partition the Pico’s flash drive to use some of it for your program and the rest for a file system. You can get other RP2040 dev boards with 16 MB of flash, which would let me have a nearly 15 MB “hard drive,” which would have been huge in the 1802’s day. Sounds simple. If it were, though, we wouldn’t be talking.